Jacob's Favorite Christmas Films: #9. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1964)
Did you know that in the original broadcast of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer the Island of Misfit Toys were never delivered from exile?
The world of animation production companies is filled to the brim with oddities, but Rankin/Bass Productions has always managed to stand out as especially strange. From creating holiday specials through stop-motion to working with Japanese animation studio Topcraft (a predecessor to the legendary Studio Ghibli) on the cult classic The Last Unicorn, Rankin/Bass has fed into every aspect of pop culture, from its most mainstream hits to its weirdest diversions.
Arguably the most famous production from Rankin/Bass came in the form of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The history of Rudolph outside of Rankin/Bass is fascinating on its own, originally born in a pamphlet at a department store in 1939. Rudolph had already been adapted to cel animation in the 1940s by legendary animator Max Fleischer, so back in 1964 remaking and expanding the story with new songs and characters was an interesting decision to say the least. The fact that it's become one of the most famous holiday specials in the history of U.S. television speaks for itself.
That classic status is the biggest reason Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is on my list. It's a special that I've seen too many times to count over the years, filled with vivid and funny characters. While certain elements in the dialogue have aged in questionable ways ("This is man's work!"), the whole thing is way too charming to be held back by that. Stop-motion has so much texture and life that other animation mediums can lack at times, even when it's produced for television in the 1960s (a decade that, as it turns out, gave birth to the greatest Christmas TV specials ever, because Rudolph isn't the only one that made the list).
The other primary reason Rudolph has made the list is something I've already alluded to: Its history.
I didn't just put that opening line in this to be funny. It's absolutely true that in the original broadcast, the entire subplot and promise that Rudolph made to the Island of Misfit Toys is completely forgotten. A legion of sad children writing letters (no, I'm not kidding) led Rankin/Bass to animate new sequences that are now seen today. Believe it or not, Rudolph almost has a Blade Runner-esque number of alternate scenes and versions, swapping a song here or there, losing a subplot, etc. The version we see on TV today hasn't deviated much since the 70s, but it's still fascinating to think about.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is one of the most iconic Christmas TV projects I can think of, nostalgic and full of wonder. But it's definitely not the only one...